This is a blog about the two-person bookclub my son and I started last week. We are reading War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.
The bookclub started when Max told me that he had put a hold on War and Peace at our local library. I was surprised and admitted that I hadn’t read it myself.
“Maybe I’ll read it too,” I said. “We can read it at the same time.”
He liked that idea.
The next day I went to the library hoping to pick up hard copies for us both. They only had one copy, though.
“You can renew this in June, if you need to,” said the librarian at the check-out desk.
“I think I’ll need to,” I said, eyeing the tome with, I have to say, some intimidation.
I ordered a copy of the same translation for myself later that day. It seemed important to get it ASAP so Max didn’t get ahead of me. Amazon has a thing where prime members can get free 1-day shipping if you spend over $35 in one order. The book was only about a third of that so I spent a while adding various other things to my cart before realizing none of them were eligible. So then I spent a lot more time figuring out what else I could put in my cart that would make the order eligible for the 1-day shipping.
In the end I spent $108 to get one-day shipping on a book that cost $12 and now I have a year’s supply of bougie domestic supplies including Crayola kids flossers (why crayons and flossers, Crayola?), and Mrs Meyer’s lemon Verbena dish soap.
And then, when the book arrived, I didn’t start it till the next day.
Max and I agreed, after flipping through the first few pages of his copy from the library, that we’d start by each reading the first four chapters. He read his four chapters first.
When I sat down to start reading mine, yesterday, I was sitting on the sofa while he was sitting in the Poang chair, doing some homework.
“All right, I’m starting!” I announced grandly. He raised an eyebrow.
“The French is kinda tricky,” he said.
French, what French, I wondered.
So, there’s a lot of French, it turns out, in War and Peace. Turns out French was the common language of the Russian aristocracy in the nineteenth century. I didn’t know this. What it means is that a lot of the dialogue starts in Russian (English, in this translation) and then breaks into French for a bit (rendered in French, with English translations in footnotes) and then switches back into Russian. It’s quite disorienting. Although I am practiced at guessing the gist of fragments in languages I don’t know when interspersed with English, thanks to years of listening to relatives intermix English and Bengali (Benglish?). Also, thankfully, the English translations of the French dialogue are footnoted not endnoted or else I wouldn’t bother looking them up at all and would miss a lot due to my poor French.
Max has just started learning French this year so he’s even worse off than I am.
Four chapters in, my verdict is: it’s not as boring as I was expecting. My definition of boring is something like Tolkien. I mean, I knew there wouldn’t be elves, I just thought it would be descriptive with lots of genealogy. Instead, we are thrust straight into a glamorous party with lots of aristocratic eccentrics who are either masterfully orchestrating or obliviously blundering social protocol. It feels kinda like entering a world populated by the flamboyant characters from the Brontës’ juvenilia, but as rendered by Jane Austen. There are some real weirdos, like the Prince Ippolit, who is extremely attached to his lorgnette, and who wears “trousers the color of cuisse do nymphe effrayée [thigh of frightened nymph], as he said himself.”
I’m still wondering what color that is.
I like the idea of going into a clothes store and picking something off the rack and asking the sales assistant, “do you by any chance have these in thigh of frightened nymph?”
In total, I definitely spent more time on that one Amazon shopping session (I was going to say “spree”; but spree connotes indulgence and hedonism, whereas this was achingly quotidian) than reading the book this week.
Still. 22 pages down.
Only 1193 pages to go.